Can money buy happiness? Well, that depends on how much money you have, and the type of happiness you’re after, new research suggests.
“If you should ask me the amount/In my bank account/I’d have to confess that I’m slippin'” sang Louis Armstrong in 1945.
However, having little money in his account didn’t prevent Satchmo from being happy. In actual fact, the song “I’m just a lucky so-and-so” is about the feeling of happiness that one gets from being close to loved ones and being able to admire the beauty of the world.
Is there any truth to the idea that we don’t need money to be happy? Or is this just a myth that was invented by the wealthy to keep the poor content?
Between these extremes, there may be some middle ground, according to a new study published in the journal Emotion.
Paul K. Piff, Ph.D., and Jake P. Moskowitz, both from the University of California, Irvine, examined a range of positive emotions associated with different incomes and found that money buys different types of happiness for different people.
“Higher income has many benefits,” says Piff, “including improved health and life satisfaction, but is it associated with greater happiness?”
This question prompted the researchers to survey 1,519 Americans. This nationally representative sample of participants was asked to answer questions about seven positive emotions considered central to happiness.
The emotions were amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love, and pride. The subjects answered questions that were designed to measure the degree to which they tended to experience these emotions.
For instance, participants were asked to rate how much they either agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Nurturing others gives me a warm feeling inside” in order to measure compassion.
Some other statements included, “Many things are funny to me,” designed to measure amusement, “I develop strong emotions toward people I can rely on,” meant to measure love, and, “It feels good to know that people look up to me,” as a measurement of pride.
The researchers also asked the participants questions about their household income.
It was found that those who had a higher income were more likely to experience emotions that focused on themselves, such as pride, contentment, and amusement.
By contrast, those with a lower income had a stronger tendency to experience emotions centered on others, such as compassion and love. Those with a lower income were also likelier to feel awe and an overwhelming sense of beauty in the world.
“These findings indicate that wealth is not unequivocally associated with happiness,” explains Piff.
“What seems to be the case,” he continues, “is that your wealth predisposes you to different kinds of happiness. While wealthier individuals may find greater positivity in their accomplishments, status, and individual achievements, less wealthy individuals seem to find more positivity and happiness in their relationships, their ability to care for and connect with others.”
Having money, therefore, appears to make it easier to achieve only a certain kind of happiness.
“Wealth doesn’t guarantee you happiness,” notes Piff, “but it may predispose you to experiencing different forms of it — for example, whether you delight in yourself versus in your friends and relationships.”
“These findings suggest that lower-income individuals have devised ways to cope, to find meaning, joy, and happiness in their lives despite their relatively less favorable circumstances.”
Paul K. Piff, Ph.D.
So, when Louis Armstrong sang, “And when the day is through/Each night I hurry to/A home where love waits, I know/I guess I’m just a lucky so-and-so,” perhaps he was merely devising a “happiness strategy,” or a way to cope with what was surely, at the time, a difficult society to live in.